Making a resolution for the New Year is like pulling teeth for me. I avoid it at all cost. To me, resolutions mean putting a label on something in my life that needs fixing. At 40 years old, I would rather do more accepting than fixing. And this applies to my own life, my kids, and the students I work with every single day who are applying to college.
I think my aversion to resolutions stems from how often I see people taking the easy road and simply doing what others want them to do. A prime example of this is college bound high school students. I ask them what they want to major in when they go to college or where they want to go. Their heart says one thing, but they know what’s expected of them. So they follow a path driven by status, prestige, or predetermined by somebody else. This leads them to a college right for others, but not necessarily right for them. They major in something “practical” instead of what they love. And, they take a job to impress.
It takes a self-aware and self-actualizing kid to step off this prescribed path and set his or her own course. Self-awareness and self-actualization evoke the feeling of resolution-like terms, yet they have nothing to do with fixing anything. I call them anti-resolutions. They are something we need to embody and teach our kids so that we all live the life we want to live. Applying to college is when we are first tested.
Going to a brand-name college is often the goal for many students. When I ask students why they are applying to a particularly prestigious college, they often don’t have a good reason. They list the common buzzwords like the opportunity to do research or the world-renowned faculty. It’s almost like they’re just spitting out perfect marketing lingo. The most telling piece is their supplemental essay for the prestigious college. Oftentimes, they write an essay that reads more like an admissions brochure than a personal statement about why they are truly attracted to the college.
If push comes to shove, should students just be honest? Should they write, “I’m applying to the University of Pennsylvania because it’s an Ivy League school” or “because my parents want me to?” Of course not. But if they can’t come up with a better reason, they should mark this moment of self-awareness, and make a self-actualizing decision to apply to colleges that are much better matches for them. Students will thank us in the end not only because they will have a better chance of admission, but they’ll be much happier in the long run at a college that will accept them for who they are.
Most people just assume that I want my own kids to go to a brand-name college someday. But that’s the farthest thing from the truth. I want my three wonderfully distinctive kids to end up where they belong. They can get a great education almost anywhere. If they accept who they are and strive to be the best versions of themselves, everything else will fall into place.
Self-awareness and self-actualization are learned behaviors. If my kids see me doing this, there’s a good chance they will do the same. That’s part of the reason I don’t like to make resolutions to fix things. I like to embrace my anti-resolutions of accepting things and being honest with myself.
My own path wasn’t perfect, but it was all mine. I like to tell my kids about the missteps and magical moments I experienced. I am living proof that brand-name colleges don’t define us; we define ourselves. I went to the college I wanted to attend, but it wasn’t a brand-name school. I changed my major to the one I wanted. I dropped out of law school to pursue the field I truly felt passionate about. When I stopped living other people’s dreams, my own dreams seemed a lot more possible.
My 10-year-old daughter thinks I’m a rebel. Rebels accept who they are even if it doesn’t fit a mold, and they go after what they want. I never thought of myself as a rebel, but maybe she’s onto something. I’d say that’s a pretty good anti-resolution for me to remember. If resolutions were made to be broken, anti-resolutions guide us when we lose sight of who we are and what’s important. Let’s stop fixing ourselves and those we love. The sooner we start accepting, the more we will appreciate and maximize the opportunities presented to us in 2016 and beyond.